Publisher: Soho Crime (December,
A Detective Peter Diamond Investigation (Book 17)
Reviewed by Shirley
For a time in the mid-eighteenth century, Beau Nash was the toast of the town, known as the King of Bath. The cliché “women wanted him, men wanted to be him” could have been made for him. Bad luck and bad choices left him a bitter, lonely, destitute old man, forgotten by those who once courted his favor. Some say he ended up in a pauper’s grave, unloved and unmourned. Others say he was buried in a Bath churchyard. When a wrecking crew demolishes a row of historical townhouses, a third possibility arises. A wrecking ball shatters a wall, revealing a skeleton in a sealed attic. The dead man, seated in a chair, is wearing authentic 1760’s garb, the skull covered with remnants of a black wig. On the floor next to him is a white tricorn hat—the signature fashion accessory of Richard “Beau” Nash.
Superintendent Peter Diamond is called out to investigate the scene when the death is deemed suspicious. It is not unknown for Diamond to take on unusual, bizarre cases, but this one takes the cake in a cocked hat. He’s never given much thought to the Beau, but when rumors spread that the skeleton might indeed be the late lamented roué, he realizes this might be his chance to make a name for himself and turn the history of eighteenth-century Bath on its head.
Historians are called on to research the well-dressed skeleton, including some experts in all things Beau-related. Members of the venerable Beau Nash Society are champing at the bit to know if what they’ve believed all these years is wrong. One of Diamond’s constables rejects the Beau theory from the start, irritating his boss to no end. Diamond has what he thinks is pretty irrefutable evidence, but others think he’s on a historical wild goose chase.
Diamond’s search for the identity of the man in the attic takes him on a winding, convoluted, journey. He gets to know the members of the Beau Nash Society rather better than he wishes. To get their cooperation in the investigation he has to submit to a humiliating ritual, one his colleagues find hilarious. There are felonious fireworks, deceitful witnesses, and ingenious squatters galore. The Superintendent and his squad solve the various interconnected crimes through good old-fashioned police procedure, using a lot of shoe leather on door-to-door canvassing, thorough examination of paper documents and records, plenty of blood and sweat, and an abundance of little gray cells.
Lovesey has come through with another satisfying mystery in this delightful series. Diamond is a likable protagonist, quirks and all. His dry humor, camaraderie with his squad and his boss, and his love for his hometown, along with a well-plotted mystery, make BEAU DEATH another winner. Highly recommended.
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